Keeping your Heart Strong and Healthy

There are many nutrient and herbal methods for avoiding heart problems, along with the well known benefits of exercise and healthy diet.

• The flavonoid nutrients found in many herbs reduce inflammation and help repair the membranes on the inside of the heart and blood vessels. Foods that are high in flavonoids include wine that is made from red grapes, and berries of all sorts.  Both are very good for keeping the heart healthy.

• Many agents found in herbs help prevent vessel clogging. These include blood thinning herbs such as carthamus flower, salvia root and prickly ash, as well as antiinflammatory herbs such as boswellia gum, turmeric root and arjuna bark.

• Nutrients such as Coenzyme Q10, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Vitamin E (mixed tocopherol), and Vitamin C have great benefits for the heart. You can follow some of the controversy on this subject here.

• Tonic herbs found in the immune group help keep the heart muscle energized.  Ginseng root, astragalus root and others are useful for  this purpose

• Any of the herbs from the blood-nourishing group will strengthen the heart, because the blood nourishes all the muscles, including the heart muscle.  Shou wu rootdang gui root are dadimadi powder are useful.

• A rising star in the field of herbal heart health is sea buckthorn bark.

Hawthorn is the preferred heart herb in Western herbal medicine.  The leaf and flower of hawthorn are indicated specifically for treating Stage I and Stage II cardiac insufficiency, as defined by the New York Heart Association (Upton 1999).  This herb works more on reducing interior lining

In Ayurvedic practice the premier heart tonic is arjuna bark (Dwived et al.  1997).  This herb offers a large spectrum of healing benefits that include helping cardiac muscle weakness, easing arterial clogging, and lowering blood pressure.  It contains fairly high levels of magnesium and other minerals.  Pomegranate fruit is also considered a heart tonic in TAM, especially the sweeter varieties, as well as wild asparagus root.

For congestive heart failure Chinese doctors often use a compound called “generate the pulse,” which contains ginseng root, schisandra berry and ophiopogon root
(mai men dong or O.  japonicus).  They also use this formula in cases of heart palpitations and skipped heartbeats, as well as for recovery from severe cardiac trauma.

Another important heart herb is night blooming cerus flower
(Cactus grandiflorus).  This herb, used by Eclectic physicians, strengthens the heart action and can correct an irregular pulse due to neurological weakness.  It has a strong stimulating action on the sympathetic nerves, and may be used for bradycardia.  The correct dose for general tonification is 10-20 drops of a 1:5 tincture twice a day, and excessive dose may quicken the pulse (Mitchell, 1998, Felter, 1922).  This plant combines well with hawthorn tincture.

For detailed descriptions of ginseng, astragalus,  hawthorn, arjuna and wild asparagus, refer to the individual articles on this website.

Research Highlights about Heart-Healthy Herbs

• Bupleurum root, soy products, astragalus root, salvia root and ginseng root all contain saponins and other phyto-nutrients that are beneficial to the heart.  They reduce lipid peroxide formation in the cardiac muscle and the liver, and they decrease blood coagulation and cholesterol in the blood.  Research also indicates that they “act either directly, by blocking the transfer of Ca2+ ions or modulating the function of Na(+)-K(+)-ATPase, or they help resorb other active principles” (Purmova, 1995).

• Gingerol from ginger root mildly increases the heart’s force of contraction via beta-adrenergic stimulation in animal models (Antipenko et. al, 1999).

• Gynostemma (Gynostemma pentaphyllum or xian cao), also known as the “herb of immortality,” contains triterpenoid saponins called gypenosides.  Research has shown that these compounds directly stimulate nitric oxide release, a process that is very beneficial to the heart (Tanner, et al., 1999).

• The combination of ginseng root and ginkgo leaf showed benefit in a placebo-controlled double-blind study on the cognitive function and heart rate at maximum load of 64 healthy volunteers (Wesnes et al., 1997).

•  A 10-month clinical study of the heart benefits of garlic bulb use showed it to be quite broad, including positive effects on lipids, blood pressure and platelet stickiness (Steiner and Lin , 1998).

• Fish (and fish oils) are heart tonics.  In two studies it was reported, for example, that simply eating fish once per week could reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death by almost 50 per cent.  (Albert et al.  1998, Kromhout, 1998).  Combining fish oils with garlic bulb quickens the onset of beneficial effects (Morcos, 1997).

• A controlled multi-center trial in elderly patients showed that the use of high-dose St. John’s wort is safer with regard to cardiac function than tricyclic antidepressants (Czekalla et al., 1997).

• German researchers working with hawthorn report that ” Rigorous clinical trials show benefit concerning objective signs and subjective symptoms of congestive heart failure (Weihmayr and Ernst, 1996).

• Other well-researched important heart nutrients include vitamin E, B-vitamins, Coenzyme Q10, calcium, magnesium and L-carnitine.

At our clinic, when we see heart patients, we place them on a healthy diet, relaxation and therapeutic exercise regimen, and give them a tonic composed of a selection of the above herbal medicines and nutrients in relatively high doses. If these directions are followed and the herbs taken without fail for months and years, great improvement can often be seen.